I wrote “Scraps of Paper”, published last year in POSTSCRIPTS 34/35: BREAKOUT (PS Publishing, 2015), for another anthology, but I realized pretty quickly it wasn’t the right fit there. Frankly, I wasn’t sure where it would have been the right fit. Sort of horror, sort of noir, sort of urban fantasy, it seemed a little bit of everything, but not enough of anything for a good home. So, I did what anyone does when they have a hard-to-place spec-fic story: they turn to Postscripts. Pete Crowther took it immediately. Then, as far as I can tell, immediately forgot he had it. So it sat, waiting for its day in the sun for a couple of years, until finally someone remembered it. Which is lucky as it seems Postscripts has since shut its doors for the foreseeable future.
“Scraps of Paper” is another in the series of Owen Rake stories I’ve written, a series that I enjoy immensely even if it seems readers are generally ambivalent to his escapades (at least, based on the dearth of feedback I get regarding them). In this adventure, Owen encounters what is, in essence, a Golem, and who is introduced in a manner befitting a large creature of the night: charging forth with police officers falling off him. This image is not one that occurred to me out of thin air, but instead from an episode of the television program, “COPS”, once a guilty pleasure for me. The scene of the naked suspect fleeing, much as Grommell does here, was pressed into my brain, waiting for a story to one day set it free, unleashing it back into the world. One never knows what bits of information will one day form the spark of a story, which is why it’s strongly recommended aspiring writers explore the world as much as possible; one needs to fill the well with as many interesting things and experiences as possible.
This year, despite being one of the most horrible in recent memory in many ways, saw the release of some great fiction. I read a few memorable novels, including Paul Tremblay ’s terrific DISAPPEARANCE AT DEVIL’S ROCK, Robert Marasco’s unsettling BURNT OFFERINGS, and William Sloane’s chilling TO WALK THE NIGHT; but I also found some great collections in Richard Gavin’s powerful SYLVAN DREAD, Lynda E. Rucker’s haunting YOU’LL KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE, Livia Llewellyn’s disturbing FURNACE, Jeffrey Ford’s wonderful A NATURAL HISTORY OF HELL, D.P. Watt’s strange ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE, Joyce Carol Oates’s discomforting HAUNTED, and Jon Padgett’s nightmarish THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM. Included in one of those two categories above (though I’m not sure which) was Peter Straub’s fantastic fragment PERDIDO, which is so purely Straubian that I’m torn as to whether I wish it were finished or whether it should remain untouched and as perfect as it already is. Additionally, and no less importantly, through accident or design I also managed to read/reread most of Matthew M. Bartlett’s released books this year, from the field-stunning debut GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION, though the short THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS, VOLUME ONE, to the tour-de-force CREEPING WAVES.
All of the above doesn’t even cover the books I read but am not yet allowed to discuss, or the wonderful short stories I considered at the beginning of the year for inclusion in 2016’s YEAR’S BEST WEIRD FICTION, VOL 3 (available now in trade, hardback, and ebook).
And I still have a stack of books I haven’t touched yet that I’m hoping to in the coming months (including John Langan’s THE FISHERMAN, Michael Griffin’s THE LURE OF DEVOURING LIGHT, and Peter Straub’s A DARK MATTER). The fields of dark speculative fiction are stronger now than ever before, and the wealth of great material feels nearly endless. It may be a horrible time to be living on the planet, but I have to tell you it’s a great time to be a horror reader.
I was very proud last year to have my novella, “Burnt Black Suns” (from which my fourth collection got its name), published in the Steve Jones-edited BEST NEW HORROR #26 (PS Publishing, 2015). This was the first edition released by PS (if you exclude the reprints of 1 through 4, and 25) and the production quality, as ever, is incredible. It was also the first time I shared space with Peter Straub in a book, which remains a surreal experience for me.
“Burnt Black Suns” was a novella that took me a long time to write, especially since it was, at the time, the longest piece I’d ever written, and it taught me a lot about my own craft and capabilities. The most important lesson I learned from writing it was how exciting a form the novella can be to work in, and I hope to write many more of them in the coming years.
My story, “In the Event of Death”, was published in BLACK WINGS IV (PS Publishing, 2015), a volume in the series edited by S. T. Joshi. It’s a riff on an idea from one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, recontextualized and interpreted through my lens.
The story, in its earlier drafts, was drawn heavily from my own experiences, and though over time most of that personal material was removed, it still helped inform the story that remained. What’s most interesting is that of the material left in I can no longer be certain what was drawn from my own experiences and what was invented for the story. This is common occurrence for writers, I think, though knowing that does not dull how bizarre it is to find one’s memories bent and distorted by imagination. It also goes some distance to showing how memory is frequently fallible and untrustworthy. Perhaps that’s the true lesson in this story.
The title, by the way, is one of my favourites. It has a real “Cornell Woolrich” ring to it.
When one of your favourite authors invites you to write a story for an anthology series they edit, you jump at the chance. And so it was when the incomparable Paul Finch asked me to contribute to TERROR TALES OF THE OCEAN (Gray Friar Press, 2015). My story, “First Miranda”, deals with identity and infidelity and the way simply being alive can change a person in innumerable ways.
What’s interesting about “First Miranda”, at least in my estimation, is its genesis. When I started thinking about what I might write for the book—or more accurately how I would fit in the writing of the story among the other obligations I had—I realized rather early that a smart course of action would be to rescue a story I’d written earlier that I’d never sold. And by “earlier”, I mean the first story I wrote when I decided to start sending my work out to editors. It was the first professional story I’d written, and though it was never accepted anywhere, I reread it a few years ago and thought it wasn’t as embarrassing as I predicted. A run-through with modern eyes was all that was needed to save it. Or so I told myself. It was only when I sat down to see how it could be fixed that I realized how little was salvageable. I kept the most basic of situations—a couple vacationing to save their marriage—and some of the images, but from them I crafted a new and (I hope) better tale from its ashes. I’m not sure if “The Quiet Harp” will ever see the light of day, but it was a stepping stone that led me here, so the time invested was worth it.